Female-majority Supreme Court of Canada in place with Trudeau’s appointment of Justice Moreau

By Cristin Schmitz

Last Updated: Monday, November 06, 2023 @ 1:17 PM

Law360 Canada (November 6, 2023, 11:36 AM EST) -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced the historic appointment of Justice Mary Moreau of Alberta to the Supreme Court of Canada, marking the first time the top court has had a five-judge majority of female members since the court’s inception in 1875.

The apex court’s newest member had been a judge of the Court of King’s Bench of Alberta for 29 years. As its chief justice, she led the busy trial court since 2017.

Fluently bilingual and with francophone roots in her home province, Justice Moreau practised criminal law, civil litigation and constitutional law, including litigating landmark language rights cases. Throughout her career, she was heavily involved in judicial education, administration and ethics, both in Canada and internationally.

Supreme Court of Canada Justice Mary Moreau

Supreme Court of Canada Justice Mary Moreau

As a Supreme Court nominee, she sailed through a cordial two-hour question-and-answer session with MPs and senators on Parliament Hill Nov. 2.

Justice Moreau was sworn in at the Supreme Court in a private ceremony Nov. 6, which will be followed on a future date by a celebratory “welcoming” ceremony in Ottawa.

Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Richard Wagner, who worked with Justice Moreau when she was a chief justice and member of the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC), welcomed her to the top bench, which has been shorthanded since last February when the CJC began investigating a conduct complaint against her predecessor, now-retired Supreme Court of Canada justice Russell Brown, who stepped down in June.

“With 29 years of experience on the bench and 14 years as a lawyer before that, I am confident that Canadians will benefit greatly from Justice Moreau’s wisdom, fairness and extensive knowledge of the law,” Chief Justice Wagner said in a statement. “I have had the pleasure of working with Justice Moreau on the CJC and the Action Committee on Modernizing Court Operations. She has an exceptional commitment and passion for making our justice system more efficient and accessible, and a long-standing dedication to bilingualism.”

Justice Moreau’s appointment is Trudeau’s sixth under the Supreme Court of Canada selection process the Liberal government introduced in 2016.

The independent non-partisan advisory board, chaired by ex-law dean and former P.E.I. premier Wade MacLauchlan, that screened 13 applications for the top court’s Western/Northern vacancy did not deliver on its mandate from the prime minister to provide him with a recommended short list of “at least” three to five candidates “of the highest calibre,” functionally bilingual and “representative of the diversity of Canada.”  

Instead, MacLauchlan disclosed to the Commons justice committee Nov. 2 that his eight-member board only shortlisted two candidates, including former chief justice Moreau. This has raised questions about the extent to which the requirement of functional bilingualism restricts eligibility for the top bench in many regions of Canada. MacLauchlan and the government have declined to answer specific questions from Law360 Canada about the process and why the board did not carry out its mandate as instructed.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for Law360 Canada, please contact Cristin Schmitz at Cristin.schmitz@lexisnexis.ca call 613-820-2794.